Telescopes from the Ground Up
Stylized illustration of the Sun.

Solar Telescopes

Do you see what I see?

Instead of light-gathering power, solar telescopes are built to have high magnification. Magnification depends on focal length. The longer the focal length, the higher the magnification, so solar telescopes are usually built to be quite long.

Since the telescopes are so long, the air in the tube is a problem. As the temperature of the air changes, the air moves. This causes the telescope to create blurry images. In the early days, scientists tried to keep the air inside the telescope at a steady temperature, using such methods as painting solar telescopes white to reduce heating. White surfaces reflect more light and absorb less heat. Today the air is simply pumped out of the solar telescopes’ tubes, creating a vacuum.

Because it’s so necessary to control the air inside the telescope and the important instruments are large and bulky, solar telescopes are designed not to move. They stay in one place, while a moveable mirror located at the end of the telescope, called a tracking mirror, follows the Sun and reflects its light into the tube. To minimize the effects of heating, these mirrors are mounted high above the ground.

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